Steck Salathe 5.9
Trip ReportSteck-Salathé photo TR, captions in 10 words or less
I’ve thought about doing this climb since the summer of 2006, but never felt ready. Every time I thought I was, I’d check back in with some old friends, and remember that I wasn’t. The friends I'm talking about are Yo’s, Zander’s, and ElCapInYoAzz’s Steck-Salathe TRs on this very site.
These TRs are not exaggerated in the pictures they paint of how the casual climber might feel on the Steck-Salathe. I used them as a barometer: upon completion of reading, do I feel scared sitting here at my desk in my home? Are my hands clammy? Am I once again laughing a little too desperately at Yo’s line about grease and blood in the flare? Until late May of this year, the answer was always yes. Then came a soft “no” after a good repeat run up the NEB of HCR. So here goes:
5:30, I’m nervous leaving the car:
The falls are the valley’s loudest pre-dawn sound:
Video of sounds:
Approach for us was 2 hours:
The East Butt is a classic line:
Unless you’re a badass, don’t start here:
Ok, here we go! 7:30am:
There are eight spots in this photo where I’ve bivied:
9:30am, Scott reaching the belay before the Wilson:
Zander told me that the belay above the Wilson Overhang…
…was the place to bail or commit. We committed.
11:45, top of p5, bad ropedrag:
5.8+ OW, do not underestimate this bit:
Because, like Steck-Salathe in general, it’s hard:
1:57pm, North Dome spied from the tunnel through:
Scott, badass, about to tackle the pitch after the rap:
It was the hardest pitch on the route for me:
Same pitch, ST p9:
This was a great lead by Scott:
He requested it, to avoid the face pitch. Mistake.
The face pitch is cake comparably:
Scott contemplating the friction move to the hole:
Reaching the belay after the face, before the flare:
5pm, It’s getting late, smell of forced bivy in the air:
A lot has been written about this pitch.
Scott gave ‘er 100 minutes of hell:
IMO, its reputation is well deserved, especially for the leader:
7:01pm, at the Narrows ledge belay, darkest inner Sentinel behind Scott:
The Narrows start is more exposed than shown in pics:
Scott resting/psyching for his fourth big lead, The Narrows:
He’d already led the Wilson…
…the pitch after the rap, and the scary flare. Huge day.
Who’s to say what lurks within the Sentinel?
Looking down from the Narrows belay ledge:
The exposure is bigger than I’d imagined:
Chalking up for the Narrows entry moves:
7:54pm, Established. Scott ate this pitch up.
Instead of climbing by headlamp, we bivied at so-so ledges above the Narrows. Bivying is kind of cool, if the wx doesn’t turn to hell.
Basking on top of the Sentinel the next morning. Looking west:
Scott on Sentinel’s weathered summit, with the moon:
This is where the photos end.
I’m going to open up the beta nozzle a little bit because other TR’s were really helpful to me and Scott in preparing mentally for this climb, and I want to kick into that stream of info. Purists turn back here.
Beta did not at all prepare me for the how hard this climb is, but I expected that. To the dedicated internet TR reader and Camp 4 story listener, the Steck-Salathe’s reputation is so legendary that it’s hard to underestimate it. But – for the average climbing Joe like me – the climb is such a beast that it’s hard to not underestimate it. There’s your conundrum.
My perceptions of the climb are probably heavily influenced by a scary fall with gear failure that I had at Sugarloaf this winter. “Scary fall with gear failure” sounds like “Still life with woodpecker.” I talk about that experience a little bit in this thread: http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1190338&msg=1190465#msg1190465. So there’s the grain of salt you should take with any beta I’m giving. Here goes:
Approach: one piece of info that I didn’t have is that you want to exit the first ramp before it peters out into the steep wall. Keep an eye out right for an exposed path heading west. This is a short vid of that path, and gives a sense of its exposure:
These are ST’s pitches ->
P1+2: link and go fine. Belay at tree.
P3: One of maybe three easy’ish pitches on the day. Relish it.
P4: Lots already said on The Wilson. Full value for me – I pulled on a sling.
P5: I skipped the infamous squeeze by tension-traversing to the flake. I couldn’t unlock the ramp moves free. I also felt pretty gripped at the top of the flake without good gear below me, though others have had no problem finding gear in this flake. I set myself up for bad rope drag here.
P6: Looking at the topo, and at the features above us from the belay, we thought we had another easy pitch – not so, but not brutal.
P7: Another of the few easy pitches.
P8: Tunnel through and rap. Only challenge here is not to slow down to rest.
P9: Hardest pitch on the day for me, and I seconded it. Scott bartered to get this pitch, thinking he’d rather be plugged into a crack than sketched on open face. Oops! This pitch is easily twice as hard as the face pitch, even with the apples to oranges caveat. It reminded me of a much harder P1 Gripper. Maybe P1 Gripper x 1.5
P10: Lots of pro available, doesn’t have to be run except in a few spots. Falls could be worse for the second than the leader.
P11: Scott spent about 100 minutes on lead, in a proud display of piss, guts, vinegar, and muscle. He was mostly deep into the flare, where he could place pro and feel a bit more secure. The price to pay is that the climbing is much more physical inside. I pulled on a sling to get past the squeeze early on, and stayed to the outside for the rest of the pitch, and reached the belay in about 15 minutes.
P12: The Narrows was the only pitch that we may have overestimated. One warning – and Scott could describe this better than I could – is that your best bet after you exit the Narrows proper is to stay in the fat crack. Don’t be suckered into the featured face out climber’s left. This is a video showing the view from the belay where the Narrows begins. The vid also features the classic line "Overall general energy is beginning to feel better" as the camera pans slowly to reveal Nutjob in full fetal position after completing the flare:
P13: In exchange for Scott leading the Narrows (he’s a better climber than me), I’d signed up for leading the rest of the pitches to the top. But after a cold bivy, Scott wanted to get his system moving and opted to lead this one. He felt it was heady and serious at parts. Definite do not fall territory in places.
P14: The third easy’ish pitch on the climb.
P15: Some bad rock, precariously perched, both while climbing and at the mossy belay. Many options off the ledge mid-pitch, I took the far right and it was easy. Save a fist-sized piece for any of them.
Here’s how I’d rank the pitches that have some sort of aura about them from other TR’s, hardest at the top. Remember I pulled on a sling on the Wilson and in the pitch before the Narrows:
1. Pitch after rap
2. Flared chimney before Narrows
4. Pitch after Wilson
6. Face pitch
People ask about Steck-Salathe vs NEB of HCR. All of the pitches listed above, to me, were harder than anything the NEB had to offer.
I’d like to hear what others found to be the hardest pitch. Many people say it’s the cumulative effect of so much burl, and I think that’s right. But still, if you can remember which was the hardest moment of the day, I’d like to hear about it.
Edit to fix pics! And to say: we didn't carry approach shoes. Next time I will. YMMV.
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